DIY Western Elk Hunt for $1,000 Budget in 2020

bull elk aspen conifer habitat

Photo taken with our Moultrie Game Camera on public land.

This post is based on a chapter from my DIY Elk Hunting Guide and is updated every year to reflect changes in license fees and fuel costs.

The most common reasons people give for not going on a DIY elk hunt to the West comes down to three reasons:

  1. No time
  2. Not enough information
  3. No money

I’m not going to pretend I can help you manage your time better and I’m not going to tell you should spend money if your kids aren’t taken care of, but I wrote the Elk Hunting Guide specifically for people that would like to hunt elk, but don’t have enough knowledge or experience with the vast areas and habitats of the West.

The guide provides information and some encouragement as I try to convince you that you can hunt elk on public land with general tags and have amazing experiences.

Many people I talk to from the East (including my family and friends) haven’t gone on an elk hunt because they think tags are too hard to get and guides are too expensive. I put that in the category of not having enough information, because it is only partially true. Plus, you don’t need a guide.

Yes, the limited entry tags are hard to draw and the cost for non-residents ranges from about $600 to $1,000, but six western states have Over-the-Counter (OTC) tags that range from about $485 in Utah to $888 in Montana.

The title of this post is “DIY Western Elk Hunt for $1000 Budget”, so this is about a DIY public land elk hunt, so forget about hiring a guide and forget about hunting on private land unless you know people with private land.

If you are a DIY kind of person, I assume you want to hunt elk for many years and not just to kill one elk to stick a head on the wall. If so, all you need is time to take 7 – 10 days off and enough money to buy a tag and get out here to the best elk habitat.

For those that can’t find $1,000, I will tell you how I solved my “no money” problems after I discuss the budget.

So, what will it cost for a DIY public land elk hunt in the West? Let’s make a budget.

DIY Elk Hunt Budget

First, let’s assume if money is tight you are going to drive. Driving costs depend on how far you have to go, the gas mileage your vehicle gets, the price of fuel and how many people are sharing the cost. In the U.S., about the worst case, most expensive scenario for driving from the East to the West would be from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon (3,188 miles and 47 hours).

But you don’t have to drive all the way from Maine to the West Coast to find elk. The distance from Portland Maine to Red Lodge Montana is 2,397 miles and 35 hours, which is a long but much more reasonable drive.

Below is a list of Eastern and Mid-western cities that are about 1,600 – 1,800 miles from elk hunting areas that can be driven in about 24 – 26 hours:

Drive Times to Selected Elk Hunting Areas

  • Atlanta, GA to Buffalo, WY (1,717 mi, 25 hrs)
  • Austin, TX to Butte, MT (1,695 mi, 25 hrs)
  • Birmingham, AL to Sheridan, WY (1,632 mi, 24 hrs)
  • Cedar Rapids, IA to Pendleton, OR (1,706 mi, 24 hrs)
  • Charlotte, NC to Leadville, CO (1,660 mi, 25 hrs)
  • Columbia, SC to Glenwood Springs, CO (1,750 mi, 26 hrs)
  • Columbus, OH to Richfield, UT (1,723 mi, 25 hrs)
  • Davenport, IA to McCall, ID (1,635 mi, 24 hrs)
  • Jackson, MS to Ferron, UT (1,531 mi, <24 hrs)
  • Kansas City to Vancouver, WA (1,799 mi, >26 hrs)
  • Knoxville, TN to Vernal, UT (1,659 mi, 25 hrs)
  • Little Rock, AR to Helena, MT (1,679 mi, 25 hrs)
  • Orlando, FL to Monte Vista, CO (1,804 mi, >26 hrs)
  • Pittsburg, PA to Craig, CO (1,620 mi, 24 hrs)
  • Richmond, VA to Breckenridge, CO (1,748 mi, 26 hrs)
  • Tulsa, OK to Kalispell, MT (1,683 mi, 24 hrs)
  • St. Louis, MO to Boise, ID (1,624 mi, <24 hrs)
  • Syracuse, NY to Denver, CO (1,669 mi, 24 hrs)
  • Washington DC to Laramie, WY (1,694 mi, 25 hrs)

Unless you live north and east of Syracuse, N.Y. or south of Orlando, Fl. you can drive to elk country in about 1,600 – 1,800 miles and within a 24 – 26 hour drive.

For the example budget, I will use 1,600 miles which doubles to 3,200 miles since you also have to drive back home and I add an extra 20% (640 miles) for scouting or whatever for a total of 3,840 miles.

The average pickup truck still gets 23 miles per gallon on the highway, so 3,840 miles divided by 23 miles per gallon equals 167 gallons. The Current Average gas price (Jan 2020) is $2.584 (more than last year, but still well below the $3.649 average price in 2014), for a total fuel cost of $431. Obviously, if you have a more fuel efficient vehicle, or don’t have to drive as far, it will cost even less.

Table 1 shows an example of a hunting budget. The fuel cost and the non-resident elk tags are the most expensive items. If you are closer to elk country than about 1,600 miles, the biggest expense will the be the non-resident hunting license and elk tag.

In 2020, the cost of hunting license and elk tag ranges from $458 in Utah to $888 in Montana and the average cost for the seven western states is $648.68.

Table 1. 2020 DIY Elk Hunting Budget

Diy western elk hunt budget

(Elk tag, Hunting Licenses and Fees accurate as of Jan 2020, but be aware that fees may go up later in the year).


In the table, I use the average cost for hunting elk including all tags, licenses and habitat stamps etc. Colorado since it is the closest place to hunt elk for most people in the Eastern and Central U.S and the cost to hunt in Colorado is very close to the average cost for the seven best elk hunting states. In Colorado, the elk license and habitat stamp now costs $672 for bull elk or any elk tags.

You notice I included $100 for two boxes of ammo. Buy good ammo or load your own. I joke about using 39 bullets for practice and keeping one bullet for your hunt, but you do what you think is best. Saving two bullets would probably be wise. Those hunting with archery equipment and muzzleloaders can budget that same $100 appropriately.

The only other items on the budget list are $45 for dry ice and $100 for game processing supplies and miscellaneous expenses. You may not need that much dry ice, but don’t let meat spoil to save a few bucks. You can always buy more dry ice at larger towns and cities as you drive home.

I only include $100 for game processing and miscellaneous, which is very cheap because you are going to do everything yourself.

Don’t know how? If my grandmother were still alive I would send her with you. But she’s not, so you need to learn how.

In the table below, I show the breakdown for total cost to hunt elk with General (or OTC) tags in seven Western States you can hunt most if not every year.

Non-residents have to draw in Montana and Wyoming. But even non-residents can hunt every year in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

The total cost for non-residents elk tag, licenses and fees ranges from $888 in Montana to $458 in Utah.

Cost for General Elk Hunting License 2020

State Hunting
Elk Tag/
Montana included $885 $ 3 $888
Oregon $167 $571  na $738
Wyoming $ 14 $692  na $706
Colorado included $662 $10 $672
Idaho $155 $417 $10 $582
Wash. included $497  na $497
Utah $ 65 $393  na $458

(I believe costs are accurate as of Jan 2020, but fees may increase later this year – fees are rounded – many states also include a fishing license, so you old guys can fish if you need to take a day off).

It’s Not Brain Surgery

Butchering an animal is like surgery, but it’s not like brain surgery. The patient has already died. Your first time will be slow and your butchering will not look professional, but that’s O.K. because you’re going to turn most of the meat into ground meat and sausage anyway, which you are also going to make yourself (see our elk polish kielbasa recipe).

You should care more about quickly cooling the meat and keeping it clean than how professional the butchering and packaging looks. The people you share the meat with won’t know the difference of how it looks, but will be impressed that you did it yourself. They may notice the difference in how the meat tastes, because if you cool the meat quickly, it will not taste gamey. There are dozens of good videos available online on how to field dress and butcher deer and elk.

What? No Food Costs in the Budget?

No. When I travel, I don’t count food costs, because I was going to eat anyway. Buying convenience foods is a big money waster. If you are on a tight budget, just buy good bread and good sandwich meat or peanut butter and skip the fast food and the chips and drinks at the gas station.

For the price of a single burger, fries and drink, you could eat lunch all week long. Buy groceries and cook or make sandwiches when you get to camp and drink water. Don’t like that? Then stay home and eat and drink what ever you want.

What? No Hotel Room in the Budget?

No. If you are still young, driving across country with a buddy through the night is an adventure. You don’t need a hotel room. If you are too old to miss out on sleep, you probably have money for a hotel. Think of all the crazy things you do that causes you to loose sleep on a regular basis. Two guys, each driving 10 hours per day and resting four hours can cover 1,200 – 1,400 miles in a day. Three guys are better to make sure the driver stays awake.

I’m not young anymore, but have personally driven solo for 13 hours (860 miles) straight, stopping only for bathroom breaks and fuel. I wouldn’t and couldn’t do that every week, but once in a while is no big deal, especially for a hunting trip of a lifetime. But after you do it once, it won’t be a trip of a lifetime, because you will keep coming back.

Share the Ride and Reduce the Costs

Everyone needs tags and licenses, everyone needs ammo and if everyone gets an elk, everyone will need dry ice and supplies, but the cost of fuel doesn’t change to much measurably by taking an additional person. Extra weight will add up, but the added fuel costs will be relatively small. (If the additional weight for a person and gear costs ½ mile per gallon fuel mileage, the additional cost would be about $9 per person).

The bottom part of the budget in Table 1 shows the total cost for 1 – 4 people all sharing the same ride and fuel costs. Since fuel is shared, the price per person goes down with each additional hunter. In this example budget, four guys can travel to hunt 1,600 miles from home for just over $1,000 each.

Any half-motivated, sober person in this country can raise $1,000. That amount of money could be raised by saving just $3 per day for a year. Most people waste that much everyday without a second thought.

So, who doesn’t want to hunting elk in the West? I can’t imagine any DIY hunter that can still walk a little that wouldn’t want to hunt elk in the West while the hunting is still good. I hope this helps you decide to plan a DIY hunt.

The next section is for any adult that doesn’t have $1,000.

So How do we get past the No Money problem?

Who doesn’t want to hunt elk in the West? Or go fishing in Alaska or walk barefoot on a beach during the winter when the snow is blowing sideways back home? (Or maybe you need money for something more important).

But many people never take that trip because they say they don’t have enough money. When I was young and dumb, I used to complain about never having enough money, but wasted money every single day on things like fast food and beer.

One night while eating pizza and drinking beer, some of my buddies decided that we weren’t doing the things that were important to us. We hunted and fished our local areas, but we also had bigger dreams of hunting and camping in the West. The years were beginning to roll by and we still had no solid plan for hunting out West.

We were still young and didn’t yet have commitments to families, so we could have easily made the time. We told ourselves we didn’t have enough money, but in truth, we just didn’t know enough. If we knew more, we would have found the money.

So how did we do it? What changed? We changed our priorities and we made a plan.

What are Your Priorities?

A few years ago, I had a neighbor that seemed to think it was wise to spend $7 every morning at Starbucks on his way to work. He also spent $9 every working day for a fast food lunch.

If we ignore all his other spending choices, that adds up to $4,250 every year. I made my own breakfast and coffee and packed lunch everyday and made my 2nd trip to Africa later that year and my neighbor had the nerve to call me a lucky bastard. He just didn’t have enough information. He didn’t know what I know.

My neighbor also had a big boat and camper that he used only about once a year. I have a new neighbor now because the bank repossessed his house. My grandfather would have said he confused the “high cost of living” with the cost of “high living”.

Years ago, that’s what my friends and I finally concluded. We wasted money on beer and tobacco (some chewed, some smoked) and we were always going out to eat and to the movies and we always had new toys.

One friend had a new sports car to impress girls not worth impressing and another had a big fancy truck we couldn’t get into with muddy boots, which rendered it useless. We all agreed that we wanted to take great trips, yet we showed our true priorities in the way we spent our money.

Some of us started by eating out less often and we drank less beer. Instead of meeting at a restaurant or bar, we grilled burgers at home and watched the game on T.V. Instead of drinking six beers, we drank one or two. One friend even traded in the sports car for an old truck and saved almost $1,000 on the insurance that year alone.

What did we get for our Sacrifice?

So what did we get for our sacrifice and suffering? Between 1982 and 1992, we made five trips to Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah & Texas. By the later years, we did have other commitments and money and time was even harder to come by. We always had to scrimp and save and even though we shared vehicles, gas and expenses, it took about two years to save enough money for the next trip. It was all worth the sacrifice and I would do it again in a heart beat.

It is important to note that not all of our original crew made those trips. Some of the guys were not willing to make the necessary sacrifices so when the time came to put down our money and go, they weren’t able. And because our real priorities were different, over the years we went our separate ways.

Like 76% of Americans, I used to live paycheck to paycheck. I know what it’s like to have to hide from the landlord because the car insurance was due. But truth be known, I still had beer money when I told the land lord I didn’t have rent money.

My parents lived frugally and never wasted money, but I don’t ever remember getting any serious money advice, so I had to learn the hard way. Maybe that was their plan.

In case you have never had a serious, tough love, conversation about money, I will do my best.

Start by stop doing “Stupid Stuff”.

5 “Stupid Stuff” things that Waste Your Money:

  • Credit Card Interest
  • ATM fees
  • Late fees
  • Bounced check/Overdraft charges
  • Speeding tickets

First, if you can’t pay cash for something, you can’t really afford it. Money management experts will tell you to cut up your credit cards. Don’t be silly; just be an adult about it. Get a credit card that offers free air miles or cash back, but pay the full balance every single month.

I haven’t paid a single penny in credit card interest in over 25 years. I never carry cash anymore except for a $20 bill or two for emergencies, so I don’t think I have been to an ATM in 12 – 14 years.

If you need a loan, go get a loan. Paying the high credit card interest rates is stupid. So is paying ATM fees and late fees for utilities and other bills. The ultimate stupidity is bouncing a check. Overdraft charges in the U.S. average $27 for each bounced check. Don’t write checks when you know you don’t have the money.

Are you so unorganized that you have to speed to work because your boss told you not to come back if you are ever late again? What do you think happens when you habitually speed? If you are lucky and don’t kill somebody, you will pay fines and/or court costs and your insurance will go up. You may even have to go to traffic school. Who volunteers for that? Sure you might meet some nice guy or girl at traffic school, but you already know your priorities are messed up.

Stop doing stupid stuff!

After I cut out the stupid stuff, I wasn’t as broke as I thought.  That leads me to the next step, which is to stop buying stupid stuff.

I have never made a lot of money, so I learned my budget allowed me to eat fast food or I could eat steak and lobster at home for the same price. Better yet, I eat simple, but good food at home most of the time and put money in the bank for special trips and toys. Since then, I have lived very frugally, but that simple change has allowed me to have money to do what was really important.

Stupid Things We Waste Money On:

  • Tobacco
  • Expensive Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Eating out in general
  • New cars

Smoking or chewing tobacco is just plain double-dumb. Smoking robs people of tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime and it will guarantee you have a slow miserable death. If you don’t care about yourself, think about the people around you. Plus, you can forget about elk hunting at altitude if you smoke.

Drinking alcohol is not all bad because we are advised to have a drink or two everyday for a variety of health reasons. But anything over two drinks per day does start to be stupid for both money and health reasons.

A study of drinking habits shows that 30% of people in the U.S. don’t drink at all. The next 30% combined claim to drink only about one drink every 9 days. The next 10% (top 70%) has one drink every 3.2 days. The next 10% has about one drink per day. This means 80% of the people in this country have less than one drink per day.

The next 10% group has 2.2 drinks per day, so if you drink more than that, you drink more than 90% of the population. The top 10% of drinkers have 10.6 drinks per day. I’ve always heard the about 10% of the population were alcoholics (excuse me, the new politically correct term is “Alcohol Use Disorder” – AUD). For those 18 years old and older, 9.4% of men and 4.7% of women have AUD, so that must be the top 10%. Anyone in that group probably needs help.

As for not eating out so much, sure it takes a little organization to buy groceries ahead of time and to get up 30 minutes early each morning to make your own breakfast and coffee and to pack lunch. But seriously, you can save at least $3,000 a year just by doing that.

It’s your choice, but if you make the choice to eat out and to drink beer every week, the only guarantee is by the end of the week, the food will be gone, the beer will be gone and the money will be gone. If you make the more difficult choice of buying groceries, packing lunch and drinking less, by the end of the week, the food will be gone and the beer will be gone, but you will still have a little money left over.

Need is a Funny Word

I always say “need” is a funny word. Do you “need” a new car? Or do you need dependable transportation. Do you want that new car for yourself? Or do you think it will impress someone else? I already said you can’t afford the car if you can’t pay cash for it, so if you really have other priorities, think real hard before buying a car, especially if you are borrowing money and paying interest.

I still have a 1987 Toyota pickup that I paid $6,200 cash in 1992. It doesn’t impress the neighbors, but it never fails to take me hunting or fishing and get back home. I just had some work done on it, so I plan to keep it for a while longer.

My wife drives a a nice car (not new) we paid cash for, but she drove an old Buick for 12 years while we saved money. When the Buick finally died (it didn’t really die, but when the door handle came off in my hand, we said enough), we had the cash for whatever she “needed”.

So, what are your priorities? How many great trips will you take in the next 10 years? Will you have stories to tell about hunting and fishing or will you still be wishing you did?

Let me know about some of the hunting and fishing trips you’ve taken. Maybe it will be inspiration to others that need some encouragement to change their priorities.


  1. Thanks for the interesting post. I can tell you put a lot of time in to writing and researching. I am headed back to Montana to hunt with my Dad. I was born and grew up in Montana but now I live in Hawaii. I used the Montana native hunting program. I had to show that I passed hunter’s safety in Montana and send copies of my birth certificate and my Dad’s driver’s license. I got my deer and elk tags for about $60 each which actually afforded me to go hunt with him this year. My plane tickets cost me $275 using my mileage plan and I paid about $200 to rent a SUV for 10 days. I already own a cabin right in the center of elk country so I am all set for well under $1000.

    The problem with all of this is that a person could quite easily spend over $1000 and not even see an elk in two weeks of hunting. So many rules, regulations, and so much lack of access makes it very hard to create the situation whereby a hunter can successfully fill that $800+ tag. My Dad hunts every single year all of his life and many seasons, he ends up empty handed. All he has to do is walk out his door. It would truly be disheartening to spend over $1000 and come home cold, hungry, broke, and empty handed. But hey, at least you have the memory of being cold, broke, tired, and hungry. Right?

    Anyway, I must admit, I was hoping you were going to write how to find antlered elk and deer on the DIY hunt and where to access the public lands and how to prepare for the moment you actually are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of an animal that meets the criteria required; so that a person may actually legally, take a shot at it. Much appreciated.


    • Thanks for the comments Dave.

      Yes is expensive to hunt out of state. You are lucky to be able to “Come Home to Montana” to have the opportunity to hunt with your Dad. I wish there were also a way that out of state friends and family could come hunt with me for a reduced rate. Something like each resident tag holder could sponsor one or two non-residents at reduced rates.

      And yes, it is a fact that you could hunt and never see elk, but you always see something. I always see more elk (and other wildlife) in the field than I do from the couch and I see more elk when I get off the road and hump it. In fact, I saw two bulls (twin fork spike and 5X5) at 60 yards yesterday morning. The sightings were about an hour apart, on public land about 500 yards from the road. I also saw something that was as much fun to me as seeing the elk. I took a break and sat down in the middle of a least chipmunk’s path. At first, he fussed at me and ran around behind the tree, but later he just jumped over me on his way back and forth collecting food and caching it.

      It would be disheartening to come home broke, but everyone that hunts has come home cold, hungry and had to eat tag soup, but I don’t call that empty handed. Some of my best memories are hunts where I did not harvest anything after 9 – 14 hard days in the field. I have more good memories of “unsuccessful” hunts because they usually last longer. Last year, I harvested a mule deer buck and a cow elk, but have little to remember because I only hunted about 30 total hours. I think the perfect hunt would be a long hard hunt where you finally get a chance the last hour of the last day. Do you really want the hunt to be over the first day?

      This post is based on a chapter in my DIY Elk Hunting Guide. The guide is 330 pages and does cover the questions from your last paragraph including; Where to Hunt (Part II), Preparation for the Hunt (Part III) and Finding Elk and Hunting Strategies (Section IV) (Download sample PDF and look at the Table of Contents)

      I wrote the guide for people not familiar with the West who want to do a DIY fair-chase elk hunt on public land, but need more information & help with planning, selecting a state, hunting strategies, training, logistics and backcountry safety.

      Your last sentence about how to “prepare for the moment you actually are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of an animal that meets the criteria required; so that a person may actually legally, take a shot at it” is so true. It can all happen very fast and not only do you have to decide if the animal is legal, you also have to decide if the shot is ethical or not based on distance, wind and the angle the animal presents or other animals that are nearby.

      All part of the fun…
      Good luck on you hunt with your Dad this year.

  2. Michael Beers says

    Just the experience and time of hunting with my beloved Dad, would have been worth the thousand dollars. The time spent in camp, should be counted. The success of anyone in the party should be counted. The opportunity to be part of the West for any length of time, should be counted.
    I have never gone out of state for an elk hunt, but I have been deer hunting in Wyoming on two separate occasions. Neither time did I fill my tag, but the memories are priceless.
    I too am getting old, (60) this year, so I talked my kids, brother, and two buddies into putting in for Wyoming buck tags for 2016. I really hope we draw those tags. There will be seven of us and I am footing the entire bill. My point is, the experience will be unbelievable, whether we are successful or not. I like PB and J sandwiches.

    • Well said Michael. Hunting should be about the experience and not just a tag to be filled. I have found no better place than the West for those experiences.
      I hope you draw your tags and I know you (all seven of you) will never forget the experience.

  3. Excellent article. I am from Minnesota and have been organizing DIY elk trips with friends the past 10 years to Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho. I track the expenses every year, and it has always been under $1000 per guy, including tags. We drive straight thru with 4 guys per truck pulling trailers full of UTVs/ATVs, so the $800 gas per truck gets split 4 ways. We pre-make frozen meals in gallon zip-locs (chili, stew, etc) and buy about $200 worth of groceries at Wally. After a few days of hunting, we can enjoy backstraps over the camp fire.

    And regarding your life style choices, I make good money as an IT professional, but still live by the guidelines mentioned (pack my own lunch, no smoking, limited alcohol, no wasteful habits like Starbucks) and consider eating out as a treat rather than a lifestyle. I generally buy nice used cars and toys on Craigslist (and can often sell them for more than I paid).

    You are so right about the people I run into that complain they don’t have any money, but are extremely wasteful with what they make. Maybe I will run into you “out on the mountain” sometime. Happy hunting, and God Bless!

    • Thanks Jeff. There you have it, Jeff has 10 years of DIY elk hunting on a $1,000 budget. Think of all the stories you have to tell for such a small sacrifice. Good luck to you and your buddies this year. Have any good hunting photos you would like to share?

  4. Corey mincey says

    Hey Mr. Chronicles: Myself and three other guys are planning a trip out to hunt public land for the first time. My cousin has been there once before with a guy that lives in Utah when he was TDY at Hill AFB. We live in Eastman Georgia and are planning on flying out and maybe meeting up with this guy again. I hope we can get OTC tags in Utah for the Uinta mountain units. We are avid hunters so just the experience for me would be amazing. Thanks for the great post on diy elk hunting. Where can I find the full post to read the entire version? Thanks

    • Hi Corey. Sounds like you guys have a plan. You didn’t mention if you are hunting archery or the rifle season. If Archery, you can buy your general elk season tags when you get here (OTC), if rifle hunting, buy your General Season Tags as soon as you are sure you are hunting this season. They are limited and usually sell out by Sept.

      The Uinta Mountains is a large area which has several units and includes Spike only and Any Bull units (see map in this post). You have to choose between Spike and Any Bull Units, but you can hunt in any and all Spike or Any Bull units. For example, with an Any Bull tag, you can hunt the North-Slope, South Slope or Kamas Units in the Unitas. With a Spike tag, you can hunt the Wasatch unit, which is Wasatch Mountains in the west and Uinta Mountains in the East.

      Check out this post, where I rank the Utah General Season Elk units.

      I think you are referring to MY DIY Elk Hunting Guide. I wrote the guide specifically for hunters like you. People that want to do a DIY public land elk hunt, but are not sure how/where to start. The guide is basically the conversation I would have with my friends and relatives that live in the South when they ask about coming out west to elk hunt. It also shows you where to quickly find all the info from the state you decide to hunt.

      You guys have a head start if you have a contact in Utah and I know with that attitude, you will have a great time.
      I wish you luck, but I will count on your skills and effort.

  5. mark fischer says

    Started doing western hunts with friends and family from WI back in 1990 every other year at least. Now retired with a disabled wife to take care of I am glad I started when I did. I would tell others not to wait till your thirties, start in your twenties, you never know how long you may have to do it. As far as success, pay your dues and learn all you can, success will come.

  6. Jarvis Johnson says

    Thanks great information. I’m a first time DIY wanting to go on a rifle elk hunt. Never hunted elk but, its on the list of things to do. I really enjoyed all the information about the budget and OTC tag information , it really seems simpler than putting into to get priority points yearly. If there is someone else out there that is planning a DIY elk hunt , I would like to make contact with them for the 2019 season.

    • Hi Jarvis: Yes hunt general/OTC every year so when you finally draw a limited entry/controlled hunt elk tag, you will not be elk hunting rookie.
      You might get better response if you tell other hunters where you are from and where you want to hunt.
      Good Luck.

  7. I’m from Missouri. I want to do an Elk hunt in Colorado.We will have a minimum of 4 people going. I have a camper and will be self-sufficient. Will be a first time for all. Can anyone give me a breakdown of cost of tags and how the process works step by step.
    I also would like to know if we can hire just a guide basically where to camp and guide us for the duration of hunt. If they even do that type of thing. Trying to save on cost!!

    • Hi Aaron. Been waiting to reply after I updated the post with the new costs. I also added a table that shows the complete cost for each state. Not sure what you mean by step by step process. If you want to hunt during the limited entry (or controlled harvest – different names in different states), get in line.

      You need to choose a unit an apply. You can apply as a group, so all of you will draw or none of you will. But it may take you 20 years to draw a limited tag. I still have never drawn a limited entry tag.

      You should apply for limited entry tags, but in the mean time, you should hunt every year with OTC tags in Colorado (or with OTC or general tags in Utah or Idaho). OTC means Over-the-counter. Everybody gets a tag. Some tags are unlimited and others have limits, so apply early in case they sell out.

      Trying to save on cost? Then forget about a guide. Do it yourself, hence the title of the Post DIY. Your biggest single expense will be the guide. Consider an outfitter to set up camp and to pack everything into the backcountry, but that would be a luxury that you would appreciate more after you spend several years hunting on your own.

      Even if you hire a guide some day, you will appreciate that more after you have your own hunting experience.

      Go set up camp and start hunting. Being from out of state, your scouting time will be limited or none at all. It will take time to learn an area. At first, you don’t even know where to camp. All part of the fun.

      I didn’t scout at all this past season, but I know the area. Still took me 21 days to get my elk this year. If I had scouted it probably wouldn’t have taken as long.

      Good luck on your hunt. One question. Why Colorado?

  8. I’m from Maryland and have wanted to elk hunt for years. The high cost of doing a guided hunt, and being intimidated by trying it on my own had stopped me so far. After reading this I’m feeling like this is the year to do a DIY hunt. I love archery hunting but want the best chance to harvest an elk. Do you recommend a muzzleloader or rifle hunt for better odds? It seems like most people I talk to around here go to Colorado to hunt for elk. I’m not worried about the distance so would you recommend Colorado or a different state? Thanks!

    • Hi Alan, Yes, DIY Elk hunt… the only way for the average guy and in my opinion the best experience. Yes, most people hunt elk in Colorado for good reason. They have more elk, but they also have more elk hunters. Colorado is also closest state with general elk tags (OTC) to most hunters that live in the east.

      I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide to help answer your question. The book also answers questions you don’t know to ask yet.

      Which State? Elk habitats are similar between the different states, but they do very and those habitats are in different “eco-regions”. Do you prefer to hunt the Southern Rockies, Middle Rockies, Northern Rockies, Wasatch-Uinta mountains, Colorado Plateau or Idaho Bathalith (or others). Like most, you probably need to know more.
      But needing to know more is the reason you haven’t hunted elk until now.

      It is challenging? You bet. Is it really “do-able” Yes. I should make a post with the emails I get from folks that tell me (and send pics) about harvesting elk on their first or 2nd trip. Read Brady’s 1st elk story here.

      Also read my other posts about hunting General Elk Season (OTC tags) in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. I am in the process of including the newest harvest data (2017) into those rankings of elk units.

      Hunter success is higher with rifle than muzzleloader and Archery, but that just counts the harvest, not the experience. What do you want to do? Is your goal a head on the wall or a lifetime of hunting experiences (with friends of family) in amazing country?

      Hunting rutting bulls with General (OTC) tags is only done during the Archery season… Otherwise, that opportunity is reserved for Limited Entry (Controlled) tags that have to be drawn. Start putting in for the draw, but it may take 20 years to draw those tags. I haven’t drawn in 10 years, but know people that drew the 1st year. To increase your odds, you need to apply in many states, but then you have to be prepared to scout and hunt many states.

      Hunting strategies for bull elk or cow elk differ during different times of the season (pre-rut- archery; post rut; rifle (any legal weapon) or muzzleloader) and late season (usually rifle).

      Hunt every year with general tags. Otherwise when you finally draw a Limited Entry tag, you will still be an elk hunting rookie with no knowledge of the area.

      Start planning now and plan to go every year or every other year. Elk populations are very good in the Inter-mountain West, but these areas are developing fast, so it will not always be this way. You can also hunt Wyoming and Montana, but non-residents have to draw the general tags. You can also still hunt elk every year without drawing a tag in Oregon and Washington.

      If you do it once, I promise you will want to do it every year as long as the knees hold out.

      It really takes a book to answer your question, but I hope this gets you started. My book is basically the conversation I have had many times with friends an relatives from the east that ask my how to get started hunting elk in the West.

      Good luck on your hunt and let me know how you do.

      • Thank you very much! I will be getting your book, and I’ll check back in to let you know what I decide to do.

  9. Ronald Fible says

    Thanks for all the info I sure do appreciate it I’m going to get with my son and see what we can do

  10. Jorge Lozano says

    Excellent article. I’m from Mexico looking for bow hunt an elk. Is it possible? If it is, same fees apply? Hope you have that info.

  11. Great article and tha nks for the motivation, I really want to do this, Lord willing! Next fall I will try to make this happen!!! Fortunately I work for a major airline and can fly for free so making it to whatever state I decide on wont be a problem!!! Again thanks for the motivation!!!

  12. Christopher McFarland says

    Thank you for the time you have spent writing this. I agree it’s all about the hunt rather then filling the tag. I would be lying if I didn’t say it would leave a bad taste in my mouth. But if your with great like minded friends than it’s all worth it it’s a memorable experience. I can’t wait to finally get everything in order to pull the trigger on this hunt. Thank you again
    Chris McFarland
    Maine deer hunter

  13. SERGE PICARD says

    Hi, I just purchased your book DIY Elk Hunting Guide. Looking forward to reading it. I’m heading out to Idaho this fall with a friend, on a DYI hunt, so mi looking forward to reading your book.

    • Thanks Serge… Good luck on your hunt. Keep me posted here on on Instagram @backcountrychoniclesdotcom

      • Can you recommend any places to hunt for me that are not on private land where I see they charge over $5000 just to use the land. I am getting into hunting elk and live in Northern California but don’t mind driving. I saw Washington had cheapest tags but want to make sure I don’t come up empt handed

        • California obviously doesn’t have much elk hunting opportunities. Oregon is closer to you than Washington… You mention cheaper tags, but would have to drive farther to hunt Washington. You will have to hunt public land unless you know someone with private land if you don’t want to pay. I thought I answered most of these question is the post. I could care less about private land or guided hunts. Do it yourself on public land. Good luck on your hunt

  14. Kenneth Tews says

    Thanks for the realization ✔️ that I needed to get my life back on track to do the things I really want to do. I’ve always known it was on me and everything you said were things I already knew, but I definitely needed someone else to say it! I’m planning on doing what I need to do to give myself memories as well as my family, because my Dad definitely needs this and I want to be the one to give it to him. Disregard the fact he more than deserves it, I would love nothing more than for our last hunting memories to be hunting somewhere for elk, that has always been his dream. Thanks again bud!

  15. I am from Alabama and enjoy reading all of your posts. I have been to SD and killed my first mule deer a couple years ago. I am wanting to go to Idaho for DIY Elk hunting in 2021. I read your post in regards to Top 25 Idaho Elk units in 2016, which was very helpful. Thanks for doing the leg work! I am an avid hunter and fisherman in AL where my buddies and I hunt quail, deer, duck, turkey and so forth. I am not a bowhunter and was curious, after the rut do bulls usually head to higher elevation? Could you possibly give it in feet? For example they usually move to 7,000-9,000 ft. Where I am from the elevation is about 200 feet so when I read “higher elevation” I have no idea what that means. Also, would it be a good idea to pick up a mule deer tag just in case?

    • Hi John. You asked some excellent questions… not the usual “where should I start hunting?”, “what is the best unit?” or “where are the fish biting?” type questions and I get your point about higher elevation being relative.

      After the rut, Bull elk need time to heal their wounds and store some fat for the winter. They could do that lots of places if they were left alone, but they choose places where they are left alone. Many have started calling these refuge areas.

      A herd of elk has to find food for the entire herd. A lone bull only needs enough food for himself. That may be in an area that could feed an entire herd for a while or it may be just a small patch. It may or may not be at higher elevation, but it will be in a place where few people go. It might be next to a road or trail, but it will be above or below the road in rough country. So to answer your question about heading to higher elevation depends on the area. In most areas, the rough isolated country where they can find refuge is higher, but sometimes it is down in a canyon.

      As for specific elevations, in my area, I sleep at about 5,600 feet here in a mountain valley. I can hunt in the Pinyon Juniper between 6,000 – 7,000 feet. I can hunt in the aspen, mixed conifer, lodgepole pine and/or mountain shrub at 7,000 – 10,000 feet depending on aspect. The highest elevation alpine and spruce-fir 9,000 – 12,000+ is not the best elk habitat during hunting season here, so I usually don’t spend too much time there, but then again, I am not usually looking for post rut bulls.

      Before there is much snowfall, the best areas for elk here is 8,000 – 9,500 feet…
      In Northern Montana and Idaho, best habitat would be lower and in Arizona or New Mexico,it would be higher.

      As example, the lowest aspen I see around here is about 6,000 feet. In Northern New Mexico, there are not many aspen below 8,000 feet. There is not too much aspen habitat in Northern Idaho or Montana, but it does grow below 5,000 feet there.

      A September snow doesn’t move elk to low elevations… A November snow usually does. If you are hunting in October, you will be in some snow, but the elk may still stay high.

      As for getting a 2nd tag? I would get a 2nd tag every change I got. Hunting either sex elk or Bull elk and Mule deer Buck gives you more chances and options.
      Good Luck on your hunt.

  16. Thanks so much. Definitely will be getting your book to read. Hoping to get out to Idaho, Montana or Wyoming here soon.
    Rough terrain no one wants to go! I can only imagine dragging one out. Hopefully I will get the chance to.

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